Developer Mode is available on the Xbox Series X and S. This feature can turn every console into a development kit. Microsoft officially announced it for the Xbox One back in 2016. Here’s how to use Developer Mode on a modern Xbox, and why you might want to.
What Is Developer Mode?
Microsoft first announced the Xbox would be getting a developer mode during its Build 2016 event keynote, along with the news that Universal Windows Platform (UWP) would be coming to the Xbox One.
With developer mode enabled on a Microsoft console, it’s possible to install and run UWP apps. When developer mode is enabled, retail games and other services won’t work. Playing retail games and apps downloaded from the Microsoft Store requires that you restart your console.
UWP was Microsoft’s big shot at a unified software platform that allowed apps to run on Windows 10, Windows 10 Mobile (Windows Phone), Xbox One, and HoloLens. The benefit of a UWP app was that it didn’t need to be rewritten to be ported to another Microsoft platform.
Developer mode is perfect for testing out UWP apps you’ve written or sideloading UWP apps from other developers. This functionality is available on all Xbox One-era consoles, plus the Xbox Series X and S. The newer the console, the better apps perform.
Why Enable Developer Mode?
There are two reasons to enable developer mode:
- You’re writing an app for the platform and want to test it.
- You’ve found a UWP app you want to install on your Xbox.
If you’re a developer, you likely already understand the platform and its benefits. If you’re more interested in sideloading your own apps, you’re probably also interested in emulation and other apps Microsoft won’t allow in the Microsoft Store.
However, developer mode isn’t entirely free. To activate it on your Xbox, you have to register an individual app developer’s account with the Microsoft Partner Center ($19 in the U.S, but the cost varies in other regions).
You can’t skip this step because you’ll need to add your Xbox to your Partner Center account as a “development console.” There aren’t any drawbacks to doing this, aside from the out-of-pocket expense. You can still boot your development console in retail mode and play games as you normally would.
How to Enable Developer Mode
Before you get started, head to Microsoft’s Partner Center and register for an app developer account. You don’t necessarily have to use the same credentials as your existing Xbox (Microsoft) account; you just need a valid developer account. This is a one-time fee—you won’t have to renew in the future.
Next, turn on your Xbox and hit Y on a controller to open the search box. Search for “Xbox Dev Mode” and install the app. Wait for the download to complete, and then launch it. Select Next until you see a code.
Note: Another app, called “Dev Mode Activation,” is designed purely for Xbox One consoles and won’t work with the Xbox Series X or S. If you have a Series X or S, make sure you download the “Xbox Dev Mode” app, or this won’t work.
Jot down the code before you move on to the next step. You now have to register your console in the Microsoft Partner Center. Visit the Manage Xbox consoles page or click “Dev Devices,” followed by “Xbox One Development Consoles” under “Account Settings.”
Click the plus sign (+) to add a new console, and then type the code you noted earlier. After you submit the form, your Xbox should activate developer mode.
When you’re ready, select “Switch and Restart” to reboot your console in developer mode.
Entering Developer Mode and Installing Apps
To access developer mode, open the Xbox Dev Mode app, choose “Switch and Restart,” and then wait for your console to reboot. When you want to exit developer mode, head back to Dev Home (the main developer mode dashboard) and choose “Leave Dev Mode” in the “Quick Actions” menu.
When you first boot into developer mode, you won’t be connected to the internet. To connect, select “Launch Home” to open the dashboard and launch the Settings app. Select General > Network Settings, and then set up your network (wireless or otherwise) as you normally would.
Select the “Dev Home” icon on the dashboard to return to it. After a few minutes, the “Xbox Live” notification should change to “up and running.” An IP address should also appear in the “Remote Access” box on the right.
Select “Remote Access Settings,” and then type a username and password to authenticate and send files to your Xbox from a browser. You can also disable authentication if you’re not worried about others on your network messing with your console.
Now, it’s time to test everything. Open a browser on your computer and type the address displayed by your Xbox.
Note: This address is an “https://” secure connection. If you leave out the “s,” the URL won’t work. An error will appear, notifying you that the connection isn’t really private, but that’s okay; just dismiss it.
You’re now set up! To transfer files, just select “Add.” Select “Add User” to create dummy Xbox Live test accounts.
Developer Mode Limitations
Developer Mode does have some limitations you need to know about, especially if you’re going to develop your own apps. Even if you’re doing this for emulation purposes, you might run into some issues due to Microsoft’s restrictions.
On an Xbox One or Series X or S console, UWP apps can only access files that are 2GB or smaller. This might be an issue if an app you’re trying to use attempts to access a large ROM or video file. This limitation is unique to developer mode.
There are hardware constraints, too, in terms of which system resources UWP apps can access. The maximum allotted memory for apps is 1GB, while games get 5GB. Apps can share 2-4 CPU cores and have up to 45% of the GPU. Games can use 4 exclusive and 2 shared CPU cores, but have full access to the GPU.
Only 64-bit (x64) apps are permitted (there’s no support for 32-bit (x86) apps). While apps are limited to DirectX 11, games get full DirectX 12 features.
You Can Deactivate Developer Mode
If you ever want to remove developer mode from your console, launch the Xbox Dev Mode app and select “Deactivate.” You can also log in to Microsoft Partner Center and remove your Xbox from the “Manage Xbox Consoles” menu. Resetting your console to the factory defaults also removes developer mode.
Your Xbox Is Now Configured for Developer Mode
Whether you’re installing emulators or developing your own apps, you can now use developer mode on your Xbox any time you want. All you have to do is launch the Xbox Dev Mode app (or use the old Dev Mode Activation app on an Xbox One, S, or X).
While the Xbox Series X has pulled ahead in big-budget retail releases, the Series S is still pulling its weight when it comes to emulation. Learn more about the differences between the Series X and S.